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20 Pre-War Cars

20 Pre-War Cars Published: 3rd Jul 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

20 Pre-War Cars
20 Pre-War Cars
20 Pre-War Cars
20 Pre-War Cars
20 Pre-War Cars
20 Pre-War Cars
20 Pre-War Cars
20 Pre-War Cars
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Longline fan David Burgess-Wise puts his case for these bygone beauties

There’s a rumour going round that interest in pre-war cars is falling, though I don’t know where it’s coming from; if you had seen the long queue of cars waiting to get into Vintage Revival Montlhéry the other weekend or remember the crowds lining the roadsides in November to watch the veteran cars go by on the Brighton Run, you’d realise that veteran (pre-1905), Edwardian (1905-18), vintage (1919-30) and PVT (1931-40) cars are just as popular as they ever were.

When I bought my first vintage car, many of the cars now regarded as classics were things of the future. In those days, we bought vintage cars not only because they were cheap – nobody thought of old cars as an investment back then – but because they offered more satisfying motoring than the modern cars of the day.

Mark you, a certain sense of dedication was essential, for there was no specialised support industry for old cars in existence back then. Your source of spares was most likely the local breaker’s yard, and most probably you would have had to fix any problems yourself. But the cars had been built with pride using techniques that the home mechanic could understand, and repair jobs were usually simple.

Many cars of that era were scrapped when they still had years of useful life in them simply because they had become unfashionable. Those that survive were often kept by appreciative owners who recognised their inbuilt merits or had nostalgic affection for them. Indeed, there was a fashion in the 1920s and 1930s for re-bodying treasured older chassis to bring them up to date in terms of appearance.

On the other hand, the classics that have survived are the best of the bunch. My first brand new car was a leased MkIII Cortina; Ford built over 1.1 million of them. Today, according to the “How Many Left” website, just four MkIIIs are known to the DVLA (there’s much more than that!-ed), of which two are actually on the road.

Today’s classic motorist probably doesn’t remember the shoddy build standards of some companies during the strike-prone classic era; poor rust-proofing saw some cars (like our new Ford MkI Escort) develop serious rot problems almost as soon as the twelve month warranty period expired, and the Friday afternoon car was an object to be feared. I recall a Ford Corsair office car that – apart from a depressing tendency to foul the plugs of its gutless V4 engine – emitted a terrifying rumble from the rear end during cornering, itself a curious sensation due to the vagueness of its recirculating-ball steering gear; after the local Ford dealers had taken the entire rear suspension and back axle apart, the source of the mysterious noise was eventually discovered to be an empty milk bottle discarded beneath the back seat by some careless Halewood worker.…

Maybe the percentage of pre-war cars appearing at high-end auctions seems to have diminished recently; that doesn’t mean either a diminution in cars coming on to the market or a fall-off in sales.

Smaller specialist auction houses and dealers have plenty of early cars on offer, private sales within clubs show no signs of falling and prices seem to be rising, particularly for popular models like the Austin Seven range.

But what is the special appeal of the earlier cars? For me there are many reasons: the individuality, the sense of history, the aesthetics, the evidence of hand finishing, the fact that they require a different set of skills to drive… But at the heart of it is the basic fact that I fell in love with early cars when I was still a small boy watching the Brighton Run go by and always harboured a desire to own a veteran car, a dream that took over 40 years to fulfil.

With pre-1940 cars you’re touching history; these are cars that have lived through world wars, have perhaps had famous, even notorious, previous owners, have been an important part of the lives of several families, maybe been present at historic occasions or venues, have travelled roads you’ve never been on or competed on long-ago race tracks. They have hand-built bodies, radiators of different, distinctive designs, their badges are a sort of romantic heraldry. They make distinctive noises with their burbling exhausts or whining gears. In short, they have character.

In contrast, to me so many cars of the classic era are just A to B transport; but then I drove many of them when they were new and I was a young motoring journalist. My everyday car way back then was a 1927 Clyno Royal Tourer in which I covered up to 9000 miles a year and had bought via an advertisement in Exchange & Mart for £40.

I found that I enjoyed driving that then very secondhand car far more than I did the contemporary products of the motor industry – and still do.

An encouraging sign for the continuing popularity of prewar cars is that the younger generation is increasingly active in the pre-1940 movement, both as owner-drivers and as restorers; indeed, Rolls-Royce and Bentley Heritage specialists P&A Wood of Essex have a group of apprentices learning the craft of vintage vehicle restoration, their latest project, the rebuilding of a World War One Rolls-Royce Hawk airship engine.

Too many nowadays think of old cars simply as investments and hide them away rather than drive them. The atmospheric prices realised by some Ferraris seem to me to point inevitably to a future crash. In contrast, the prices of many prewar cars have always held steady, if not grown spectacularly, and think how many veteran and vintage cars you could buy for the inflated price of a single Ferrari!

In any case, surely the whole point of owning any collectible is not how much it’s worth, but the enjoyment you get from owning and driving it. As my late friend, Canadian Ford historian Herm Smith wisely said, “Treat owning an antique car as a hobby, spend only what you can afford… and once the money is gone, consider it gone. Whatever you get, whether it’s less than you paid for it, whether you break even, or if you get more money than you paid for it, always consider it pure profit. There is no way you can value the fun you had with it.”

How to find old gold

If this special guide to the wonders of pre-war motoring has you pondering on taking the plunge then read these top tips to ensure you don’t unearth fools’ gold!

Even with a classic car, do you still find that the sheer enjoyment of driving is slowly being drained due to increased traffic congestion, fuelled by revenue-raising speed cameras, and ill-conceived “traffic calming” nonsenses – they all take their toll on even the most determined of enthusiast.

But there may be a solution to all this and that’s getting back to basics with a real golden oldie! Okay, they may not be fast but that’s half the fun as you watch the world whizz by, plus you have the thrill of knowing that every journey is going to be an experience to remember – such as getting home without a breakdown!

Values for good cars are on the rise and will remain so, making them an appreciating asset that you can enjoy at the same time – and we don’t mean just the London-Brighton run. Interested?

Make it a date

If this is your first pre-World War Two car, the first thing you need to do is get focussed and define the era you want to join. While “Classic” is a catch-all term covering just about anything over 20 years old, pre-World War Two cars fall into strictly defined time slots: Veterans were built prior to the end of 1904, Edwardians happily ignore historical accuracy (Edward VII died in 1910) and are classed as being built between 1905-1918, Vintage date from 1919-1930 and cars from the 1930s can, if they’re on a sometimes controversial list drawn up by the Vintage Sports Car Club, be classified as “Post Vintage Thoroughbreds”; no-one has yet fixed on a term for Thirties’ cars that aren’t on the PVT list. But don’t worry if your choice isn’t on that list; there’s almost certainly a local or national club that caters for you, and the rarity of all 1930’s cars ensures a warm welcome at the majority of events. But which era to choose? Go to events, take photos to study at home, visit museums, see what period appeals to you.

Dare to be different

Early cars were, by and large, built by skilled engineers. This has two big benefits for the buyer. The car is likely to be wellbuilt, even if the make is obscure – it was usually poor management or lack of finance that forced companies out of business – and if spare parts are missing, then a skilled machinist can usually make a good replacement. The flip side is that there may be eccentricities in the car’s design – early engineers were hardly averse to trying out their pet ideas on unsuspecting customers so it’s a case of suck-it-and-see.

Where to buy?

Buying at auction can be the way to acquire a car at a good price but you could get carried away in the excitement of the occasion and end up paying over the odds! Always set yourself a no-go limit (and remember that the buyer’s premium can add anything up to 15 per cent to your total bill) and stick by it. Private buys are another good way as you get the chance to meet the current owner who can pass on experience and tips. By far the safest option is to use the services of a known specialist who can advise and source the right car for you and your budget. Further benefits are that they will look after you after the sale and help maintain the car plus buy it back at an acceptable price if you want to ‘drop out’ or even trade up to another golden oldie. Dealers have a reputation to protect and word of mouth counts for a lot in this market sector.

History isn’t Bunkum

Never mind what Henry Ford said, history makes a huge difference to an old car’s real value; a car with a good provenance can be worth maybe double an equivalent model whose past is unknown. Early photographs, magazine articles – especially “in period” ones – a buff log book, letters from previous owners, restoration or service bills and so on: all these help build up the story of the car. But a spurious history is ultimately worse than no history at all, because if you pay over the odds perhaps you’ll face a serious financial loss.

Onus on originality

Originality is a key factor with early cars: indeed, a car in the condition that the French picturesquely describe as “dans son jus” (“in its juice”) is particularly desirable, for patina is as important with such a vehicle as it is with antique furniture. Whether or not the paintwork and upholstery have been renewed, original coachwork and equipment enhance the value, both in financial and historic terms.

Let’s go clubbing

Club membership can make ownership of an antique even more enjoyable. Once you’ve acquired your veteran or vintage car, you’ll almost certainly join the Veteran Car Club or the Vintage Sports Car Club, which cater for all makes, including the “orphan” makes of which there are only one or two survivors (and, in the case of the VSCC, many 1930’s models, too). In addition, there are excellent one-make clubs where you can find all the information you need about running your car and obtaining spares and specialist service; they also organise events keyed to your sort of car.

Try before you buy

A test drive can reveal much about an early car, but be prepared for the differences between ancient and modern and try as many as you can to see what suits you best – a specialist can help here. Many early cars have central throttle pedals and right-hand gear shifts; gear gates may have a different layout – it’s not like your daily driver or even an MGB you once owned! Practice makes perfect, and the skills involved in driving a pre-1940 car are soon acquired. Steering may be heavier than you may be accustomed to, but you’ll soon adapt to all this. Keep a look on the gauges (if fitted); pressure can seem low, but that could have been the norm on some makes; you need to know what the expected pressure might be. And unpressurised cooling systems shouldn’t normally run too hot, though boiling on long hills was not unknown, even when the cars were new.

Ground zero

Restoration is usually costly business. An expert’s time doesn’t come cheap, and restorations have an alarming habit of taking longer than expected. So before you embark on an expensive restoration, ask yourself whether the finished car is likely to come up to your expectations. There’s a lot of satisfaction in carrying out as much of the restoration as you can yourself, but the important thing is to know your limitations, be it space, time or skill; there are experts out there who have the specialised equipment and the skill born from years of experience who can almost certainly do the job better and faster than you can!

Rust in peace

Pre-World War Two cars are usually built on very sturdy channel steel chassis, which normally ensures that the basic under-structure is very strong. However, the bolts or rivets holding the structure together may be loose, and the chassis could be bent or fractured through hard use. Some 1930’s cars have well-known weak spots in the chassis: Model C Fords can rust badly at the base of the scuttle, for instance. Primitive designs may have wooden or tubular chassis which rot and fracture. That said, they’re easier to repair than unitary structures, rarely found before 1940. But horrid surprises can also lurk beneath the panelling of wood-framed bodies and that means the vast majority of pre-1940 cars, so beware!

Service with a smile

Pre-war cars were designed in an era when service garages were few and far between, and home servicing was the norm. Just remember that service intervals were much shorter in those days, and some items call for checks on a very regular basis, often as regularly as every 500 or 1000 miles. But then, you should check an early car over frequently (before every journey?) for your own safety, so the application of the grease gun or oil can at the same time won’t be a hardship. Grease nipples vary in design, so make sure you have the right gun for the job as early vintage cars may well have Tecalemit slide-on greasers, and here you may have to search the tool stands at autojumbles.

Other routine checks should include the braking mechanism: a couple of seconds spent taking up free play – usually easily adjusted – could well prevent an incident. Or worse.

Great cover up

Clubs like the Vintage Sports Car Club (see box out), who had a list of friendly insurance brokers and who would issue cover to members’ cars that had been inspected for mechanical condition by a VSCC official, could keep on motoring.

Gradually, more and more insurance companies realised that early cars are a very good risk, for their accident rate is extremely low. Many clubs have also arranged dedicated insurance schemes for their members. Expect to have to submit your car to inspection by a specialist engineer; this is no formality, but if your car is capable of getting through an MoT inspection, you should have nothing to worry about. However, remember that insurance is one service you can’t afford to cut corners on, though hopefully you’ll never have to make a claim.

Documentation

Just like a modern car, pre-1940 models must also have valid documents. If you need to obtain a period registration for your newly-restored car, remember that many vehicle makers either didn’t stamp numbers on the chassis – or else stamped them on the frame where the number is hidden when the body is fitted!

This will puzzle an inspector only used to modern cars. Service and restoration bills are a useful plus if or when you come to sell the car on.

Austin Seven

A pedigree chum as a starter classic is a friend for life

WHY BUY

Better known as the Chummy, the Austin Seven is one of the friendliest and easiest ways to own a golden oldie. Simple, easy to fix mechanicals – small wonder many companies (such as Lotus) started off with Austin 7 specials while great club and social scenes make this Austin much more than a mere budget-based car.

What’s Available

Some 400,000 were made in a variety of styles, so there’s no shortage of choice. Aside from the normal chummy saloon, sports tourers were also made plus racing derivatives such as the rare and coveted supercharged Ulster. The engine size was upped in 1923 from 696cc to 747cc plus electric starting was added; 1928 saw a better radiator and a proper coil assisted ignition. For 1930 the front and rear brakes worked as one (!), with a stronger chassis made a year later. For 1934, a four-speed gearbox was fitted and the larger, posher Ruby range came along for 1935.

Driving

You need to drive a Seven, with its ‘in-or-out’ clutch action and brakes on early models can lead to a resultant pulling. Talking of which, pre-1939 cars with a foot (front) and hand (rear) brakes aren’t for everybody. These cars made fine platforms for racers but the handling can be skittish due to chassis flex (can be corrected). Performance is pedestrian, of course, but Renault 4 pistons and a Mini 850 SU carb helps.

What to pay

Projects can be had for a couple of grand, scruffy to sound ones for £5000, Rubys for £1000 or so more but super Sevens and rare sports types can go for £15,000 or more, especially Ulsters. There’s plenty around so decide what you want first but be warned, restorations can prove expensive.

Owning

Superb club support means that parts and help are always ready to hand. Chassis are pretty durable but the felt insulating pads soak water and lead to rot and front frames can crack. Repairs to alloy and fabric bodies may be out of scope for DIY resto. Simple engines but re-metaling and crank repairs can be very expensive; a modern Pheonix crank is worth fitting. Early rear axles are weak and magneto ignition can be fickle.

De Dion-Bouton Populaire

Engineering excellence from this french fancy

Why buy

As the name suggests the De Dion-Bouton was one of the instigators of an “everyman’s car” being small and easy to drive. And while the Populaire was one of the first horseless carriages it was very advanced for its time, boasting the famous De Dion rear axle, that eventually found its way on the Rover P6 some 60 years later. There’s variable valve exhaust timing, too!

What’s Available

De Dion was the first car maker to offer cars for sale, issuing its first brochure back in 1886. The open Populaire was launched in 1902 (selling in the UK for £200) but alas the car didn’t give the company the success it needed and the company faded away during the roaring twenties. According to leading UK expert Austin Parkinson, there’s around 250-300 surviving in the UK but a very healthy number across the globe.

Driving

Like the Model T, there’s a technique needed to drive the De Dion. For example, there’s a decelerator pedal as well as a brake while a lever activates both the clutch and gears, twin on pre 1905 models, three-speed thereafter. The very first models lacked a reverse… With a 6hp 700cc engine it is surprisingly nippy for its era while the steering and brakes are similarly very positive and effective.

What to pay

A decade ago, you could pick up a decent De Dion for around £20,000 but prices have since soared and you’re looking at three-to-four times this and the 100K Bouton isn’t far away predict pundits.

Owning

Did you know that more De Dions survive the London- Brighton Run than any other make and in 1996 some 90 entered the famous event? That speaks volumes for the car’s reliability and according to specialist Austin Parkinson of Surrey (01403 752225) who has owned one for almost 45 years, some mechanical aspects are a work of automotive art. Spares are readily available via him although some repairs can be pricey – such as £4000 for an engine rebuild. The complex transmissions demand expert attention but Austin can advise on the best help here.

Jaguar SS

Lyons’ pride proves there’s more to jags than E-types
Why buy

If all you are used to are Mk2s and E-types and want something different, the SS is likely to blow you away in ways you didn’t expect. When new, William Lyons’ first true sporting car offered Bentley motoring for a quarter of the price, a practice that was kept right up to the XJ6. Best of all, the saloons in particular still remain extremely affordable.

What’s Available

The SS (Swallow Sidecar) was based upon a special chassis provided by Standard (later Standard-Triumph) and available in saloon or sport tourer guises with four (1.5- litre) and six-cylinder power, of 2.5 and 3.5-litres.

Driving

If you’re expecting these cultured saloons to feel like an XK or Mk1 saloon, then you’re going to be disappointed but all performed well for their size and era although the 1.5 Litre saloon can barely break our national speed limit; you’re better served by the smoother swifter ‘sixes’. Handling for a pre-war car is good although the tails can prove skittish but the brakes are good for their era. All rely on a four-speed transmission although the gear lever is a stretch for many.

What to pay

If you opt for a saloon then you can buy a good car for around £45-£50,000 with the 1.5 Saloon up to 50 per cent less; projects range from £5000-£10,000 depending upon model and condition. The SS100s are a different matter entirely and good examples typically sell for £200,000 and above but if you don’t mind it not being the real deal you can have a Suffolk SS replica using 1960’s Jaguar mechanics (including the XK engine) for up to 75 per cent less, depending upon spec.

Owning

A different kettle of fish to even the XKs of the 1950s, these pre-war Jags aren’t accepted by all marque specialists although on the other hand their simple chassis construction (shared with the later post-war MkIV-IX saloons) are easy to work on if heavy-duty. The engines are side-valve affairs. Spares aren’t in abundance and body repairs can prove very costly. Experts in the field are Davenport Cars based in Bedfordshire (01767 650271) and Ed Watson (01455 213977) who is based in the Midlands.

Roesch Talbot

Connoisseur classic that’s remarkable value for money
Why buy

Certain classics stand head and shoulders above the rest – cars like the Roesch Talbot. It was an odd amalgamation some 90 years ago of Swiss-born Georges Roesch, who designed a remarkable engine essentially to save the London Talbot company. It was the star of the 1926 Olympia Motor Show and became one of the era’s greatest sporting cars.

What’s Available

There’s a line up of open and closed cars, the secret of the car lies in its advanced engine which featured ingenious knitting needle thin pushrods and compression ratios far above the norm and more in line with power units of the 1970s. Initially of 1665cc, the design evolved into 2.3 and 2.9-litres, progressively numbered 70, 90 and 105 simply to highlight their claimed top speeds.

Driving

These are lovely cars to drive with spirited performance, fine handling and steering and a general feeling of engineering excellence. Early models used a ‘crash’ gearbox but in 1933 a self-changing ‘pre-selector’ transmission was fitted; you simply selected the gear you wanted (on a steering wheel quadrant) and simply depressed the clutch when desired. The clever part was that this gear train enabled rapid gear selection.

What to pay

These cars were traditionally vastly underrated until the turn of the New Millennium before they came into their own. Prices for top ex racing examples have sold for almost £1.5m, yet at the other end of the scale, a basic, sound mainstream model can still sell for comfortably under £20,000, says marque expert Ian Polson of Suffolk (01440 829371).

Owning

Beautifully made and engineered, the downside is that this is not the most DIY-friendly oldie on the block warns Polson and many home mechanics fail to set their cars up properly – which can make a huge difference to their reliability as well as how they drive. For instance, the gear train requires specialist knowledge while the complex engines can cost well in excess of £10,000 to fully overhaul. Happily, spare parts aren’t a problem from Ian Polson or Essex-based Arthur Archer (01371 872802) plus there’s a great owners’ club.

Riley Nine

Living on cloud nine with this classy sports car range
Why buy

The Riley Nine is one of the best small sporting cars of the interwar years and created a fair sensation when launched in 1926, care of a cracking 1087cc twin cam engine that formed the bedrock of Riley engines right up to 1957.

What’s Available

More than 6000 had been produced, the biggest change occurring in 1929 when a superior stronger chassis boasting better brakes appeared. The roomier Ultra Nine of 1931, then spawned the Imp (a shorter, sportier two seater). A steel-bodied Merlin replaced the Monaco in 1936 and that same year, a new X-braced chassis with Girling brakes surfaced; options included overdrive to the three-speed transmission. The last model was the Victor of the late 1930s fitted with a Nine engine.

Driving

If you thought Riley was just a luxury Austin then you’re wrong. Before BMC took over, Riley was a respected sporting name and the Nines are truly delightful sporting cars that perform well. Post 1929 models featured a better suspension that resulted in a much better ride.

What to pay

Riley values across the board have risen greatly during the past couple of years, but particularly pre-war models and for a good Nine you need to spend in the region of £13,000, although the rare two-seater sportsters such as the Imp and Brooklands can sell for three-times this and a lot more besides; a Lynx was recently advertised for just under £32,000, a Special sold at auction for £23,000 and an incomplete Imp found a new home at just under £50,000 for example!

Owning

There’s pretty good support for such a rare marque and spare parts supply is much better than you’d think; Blue Diamond is the best known specialist for the marque and last year completed a gruelling rally to Monaco in a WD Tourer to prove its durability. According to this specialist, the chassis is strong on most, the exceptions being some of the later cars, like the Monaco, where the chassis was boxed in to add rigidity and can harbour rust. Mechanically, they are robust but major repairs to that twin cam engine can be fairly expensive.

Riley Kestrel

Stylish and swift saloon from an era when riley was revered
Why buy

Arguably, the Kestrel was the first real fastback or saloon and the BMW of its day. Today, Kestrels are highly prized birds of prey, loved for their flowing looks and quite remarkable performance from a highly advanced twincam engine, making it one of the top sports saloons of the 1930s. Not cheap to buy or restore but there’s strong support for this once highly respected British badge.

What’s Available

The Kestrel was a descendent of the Nine featured elsewhere and utterly bewildering in the model mix when new and so this is a summary; speak to experts such as Blue Diamond Services and owners’ clubs (Riley Motor Club and Riley Register) for best advice. Kestrels were bigger-engined with a Nine-based 1496cc TC unit. It’s a sleek, four-windowed, fastbacked saloon plus there’s a hotter Sprite derivative. The sixcylinder offering (12/6) was 1.4 or 17-litre (15/6) depending upon year and bodywork plus there was the ‘Big Four’ (1937/8) with its lusty 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, good for 90mph.

Driving

In the day Kestrel was king thanks to excellent performance and nimble handling. The pre-selector gearbox may take some getting used to but a conventional transmission was also available. Pretty and petite, some may find the Bentley-like cabin too small but post ’36 cars are much roomier. WHAT TO PAY Quite a lot is the short answer, especially versions where there’s less than a handful left. As a guide for good ’uns, think £15-£20,000 for regular models, £40K for a Big Four with the Sprite-engined models generally slightly cheaper – if owners want to sell, that is…

Owning

Ali over ash frame, timber traumas are mega dear to fix (£25K), tail the weakest link and look for bodges. Engines can cost up to £15K to overhaul as well if a new block is needed (rare and some use later RM units instead). Transmissions require expert knowledge and £3000 to fully overhaul. Blue Diamond Riley Services warns that proper restorations can easily exceed the value of most saloons.

Vauxhall Price Henry & 30/98

Luton’s legends were every bit as good as the very best
Why buy

A Vauxhall you cry – which means you don’t know the carmaker’s history! Before it was taken over in the mid 20s by General Motors, Vauxhall was more a Bentley rival than Ford, producing some of the finest tourers in the world, best epitomised by the 100mph Prince Henry and the 30/98 (Velox).

What’s Available

The Prince Henry was first made in 1910, a 3-litre tourer later expanded to 3.5-litres, although not sold to the public until 1912, after notching up considerable success in competition and reliability trials. The alter C-type could top 75mph but this was beaten by the new 30/98 ‘E-type’ which was also known as the Velox which lapped Brooklands at 108mph. Bodywork specialists such as Mulliner and Grosvenor plus there was also the boat-tailed Wesnum.

Driving

Vauxhall made the first E-type before Jaguar and while they are half a century apart, Luton’s car was similarly hailed in its day as one of the best cars in the world. In its final incarnation, the 30/98 had a mighty 4-litre four-cylinder engine rated up to 120bhp – pretty impressive in its day. With hydraulic brakes from 1920, it was advanced, too. In optional high axle ratio Vauxhall guaranteed that its 30/98 could top the ton straight off the showroom floor. “Super efficient and speedy” is how The Autocar described the Prince Henry.

What to pay

Expensive when new with a Prince Henry costing £565 in 1910, these are hardly inexpensive buys a century on, if for no other reason than their sheer rarity. Octane dubbed the 30/98 “the McLaren of its day”, so a late model equipped with hydraulic front brakes can sell in the region of £200,000, with the Prince Henry priced a bit lower. A 30/98 with an Australiandesigned body recently went for £169,500.

Owning

Don’t look to your local dealer for help… and bear in mind that all classic Vauxhalls are never the easiest cars to repair or restore, so you’re going to need the help of the VBOA owners’ club. In Australasia, pre-WW2 Vauxhalls were extremely popular and a good number of the 200 survivors may reside so you may find rare parts here.

Citroën Traction Avant

In its day, was just as advanced as the revolutionary DS
Why buy

Revolutionary cars are rare, and Citroën has made more than most. Its Traction Avant is one of a string of cutting-edge designs, with front-wheel drive, monocoque construction and all-independent suspension – all on a car that débuted over 75 years ago. The car cost so much to develop that it bankrupted Citroën!

What’s Available

The Traction was built in France and over here in Slough with the French and British factories making the same bodystyles; saloons, fixedhead coupés and roadsters were available until 1945, then post-war there were just saloons up to 1957. French and English editions had different names, there were five engines, saloons came with a choice of three wheelbases and four distinct profiles (legeres, normales, familiale, commerciale). The Familiale was a seven-seater with three rows of seats, while the Commerciale offered just two rows of seats but with a tailgate, later replaced with a hatchback. DRIVING The torquey 1911cc engine (the initial 1.3 is quite miserable), that also saw service in the DS up to 1974! offers relaxed driving while the handling is surprisingly modern for such an oldie; grip is good too thanks to front wheel drive while the ride is typically Citroën soothing. Precise gearchange but the three-speed gearbox really needs an extra ratio. All smaller engines are best avoided if you plan to use the car for long journeys but for its era the Traction Avant was years ahead of the game. Six-cylinder Traction Avants gained hydropneumatic suspension at the rear from 1954.

What to pay

The nicest four-pot saloons are £15-£18,000 while usable cars are around £6000. Six-cylinder Tractions (1938) fetch a small premium but can be harder to sell; the best examples are £20,000. The 1628cc cars are rare, but values are similar to 1911cc cars; collectors pay a small premium for the earlier cars. Exceptional Roadsters can fetch £70,000, usable cars are £45,000+ and rising…

Owning

There’s numerous old Citroën specialists and clubs to help out like http://www.traction-avant.co.uk. The car’s structure is hardy, but the lower panels need scrutiny; footwells, floorpans and check the door fit; if it’s way out, the chances are the monocoque is rotten. Also check the three-piece sills, which are crucial to the car’s structural integrity. Pre-1954 engines use white-metal bearings, which can be converted to shells, but a more common upgrade is the fitment of a later powerplant.

All Tractions use a three-speed manual, which can be fragile and the synchromesh fails readily. The hubs are held onto the driveshafts by a taper, but the hub nut has to be done up to around 250lb ft to do its job properly and safely.

Alvis Speed 20/25

Why buy

If you’re after Bentley satisfaction, and even more exclusivity yet at lower prices, then it’s advantage Alvis. The Speed 20/25 is a super stylish 1930’s tourer of the highest calibre that’s so highly regarded that specialist Red Triangle has decided to make them all over again.

What’s Available

Plenty were made although it’s a case of what you can now get. It kicked off with the Speed 20SA, which morphed into the SB (1934) to signify independent front suspension and all synchro gearbox. A year later, the SC ushered in a larger 2762cc (2511cc previously) straight six together with modified longer wheelbase chassis; 1935 also saw the chassis and mechanics from the existing 3.5-litre saloon employed.

A new model for ’37 , the Speed 25, was essentially that engine in the shorter sportier SD chassis, but the biggest change was moving the throttle pedal from its centre position to the more orthodox location – and a good thing too as a beefy 4.2-litre engine came on stream!

Driving

The Alvis excels in touring where the legal limit is no sweat; up to 90mph + and experts Red Triangle knows many tuning tweaks. If the suspension is in good order the Alvis handles well for its era but early beam-axled cars are not as nice.

What to pay

Values have soared of late with top models around half a million! Restos start from around £40K so nice, usable cars will be in the £60-£120,000 bracket; speak to the owners’ clubs for specific advice on individual cars for sale, such as the cracker being auctioned by Charterhouse this month.

OWNING Restorations are complex and costly; all sport coachbuilt bodies from the likes of Vanden Plas although the chassis are robust. Interiors cost as much as a Bentley to refurbish – a new wiring loom fitted is some £2000, for example.

Mechanically, tough although the engines suffer from piston slap (you can fit better 4.3 on most). Cable brakes need expert setting up, as does the trueness of the wheels. Look to the Alvis Owners’ Club and the Alvis Register for help; Red Triangle and Fisher Restorations (01299 251628) are the top experts.

Lagondas

Before Aston Martin came along, this brand was a Bentley rival
Why buy

Although the name has been linked to Aston Martin for 70 years, before WW2 Lagonda was right up with the best and won Le Mans in 1935, with the aid of W.O. Bentley, no less. One for the purist, there’s a range of saloons and tourers, some revamped designs that were carried into the 1950s.

What’s Available

Although concentrating on the LG45, it’s as well to note that since the 1930s, there was the Selector Special with eight-speed transmission(!), the 16–80 with its 2-litre Crossley engine, the small-engined Rapier also with a pre-selector gearbox and the ton up 4.5-litre M45 with a Meadows 4467cc six-cylinder engine; M45R Rapide spin-off, winning Le Mans, thereafter the range became Lagonda’s mainstay and known as the LG45 in three versions; 1938 saw independent torsion bar front suspension and hydraulic braking on the mighty V12 LG6. A variety of bodies were available, too numerous to mention here.

Driving

One 1980’s magazine described M35R as a “Land of Hope and Glory” car and opinions are divided over the sweeter 3.0-litre and the larger engine but all offer lusty, quite speedy pace and one ‘modern’ test concluded that it was oldie that you didn’t have to tolerate too many compromises when out and about on today’s roads where it cruises at 60-65mph admirably. Compared to a rival Bentley, Lagondas are lighter and that bit sportier to drive.

What to pay

LG45s are pitched around £180,000 although many saloons can be as much as 100 grand cheaper depending upon model, although at the recent Historics Auctions at Ascot, a nice 3 Litre T7 tourer failed to sell at £95,000, which, when compared to a Bentley, is good value. OWNING Chassis are very stout and a Belgian specialist (LMB) is making certain body panels; good support from Lagonda clubs too. ‘Meadows’ engines can be weak (con rods are a common Lagonda ailment) and cost around £20,000 to overhaul and some owners fit better Alvis gearbox says experts Bishopgray (01299 251628).

Ford Model T

So much more than a mere ford – cheaper than an escort!
Why buy

Until the VW Beetle surpassed it, for decades the Model T was the best selling automobile of all time and 108 years since launch remains hugely popular with a cottage industry of specialists both sides of the pond thus keeping the Tin Lizzie alive and well. With its fantastic owner support, the Model T is an ideal V&V starter classic.

What’s Available

With over 27million made there’s an estimated 100,000 remaining, so there’s something for you and your pocket! A vast range of bodies range from the minimalist T with a very basic hood to commercial trucks and even special military models featuring flanged wheels so to work on certain railway lines. Changes made over the years could fill this issue alone; essentially, the newer the car the more civilised it became – and they did not always come in black either.

Driving

Driving a Model T is like nothing else, even for such an oldie, because it demands a totally different driving style. You change gears (just two of them) with your left foot, the centre pedal engages reverse, while what is now the accelerator is the brake; the throttle is on the steering wheel! Top speed is less than 50mph so any jaunts will be leisurely ones – and what’s wrong with that?

What to pay

Sheer weight in numbers keeps prices down to some of the cheapest you’ll find – from around £5000 as a starting point although rarer and nicer examples easily cost double, such as a Tourer. You’ll find many customised models if that takes your fancy, best speak to the owners’ club first: http://www.t-ford.co.uk and specialists Truckett Bros based in Bucks.

Owning

It’s like the Mustang but older and you can build a new one – as Ford recently did – from scratch; even in the UK parts supply is brilliant as is specialist support – try T Service of Oxfordshire (01869 351006) who says it’s a rugged vehicle and wood as against body rot is more a concern. Also watch for very noisy engines warn specialists as an engine rebuild can cost £4000 – as much as another project vehicle. Clutches stick; T Service has a modded type that makes driving easier.

Ford Pilot & Prefect

Why buy

Pilot was a slice of Americana from Dagenham and while it’s technically a post-war car, it qualifies as it was based upon the old 1930’s Model 62 but with a Stateside (side-valve) V8 for surprising performance for its era. There’s a thriving owners’ club and strong specialist support offering parts from both sides of the pond and car values are both good and rising.

What’s Available

There’s three models, with the most prominent being the saloon but there’s also the much rarer ‘Woodie’ (wood-panelled) estate and an ever scarcer pick-up (Ute) chiefly for the Australasia markets. All relied upon the well proven 3.6-litre V8 with three-speed transmission. Apart from standard cars, Pilots became very popular with hot-rodders (and stock car racers) due to that iconic engine where tuning part for this ‘flathead Ford’ are still available in the US. Although different cars, don’t ignore other Fords of this era such as the Pilot-looking E93A Prefect (1938-53) and the ‘sit up and beg’ Perpendicular Populars also known as Anglias using an 1172cc side-valve engine.

Driving

It may be V8 but it’s not speedy although still good for around 85mph and has 140lbft of torque for fine and smooth top gear ambling. In contrast, the little Englander 1.2- litre ‘four’ fitted the Anglias and Prefect were pretty sluggish in their day but at least keeps you legal… If you are still undecided, then you can hire a Pilot from dmclassics.co.uk.

What to pay

Affordable but values are rising. If you don’t mind some work, a saloon can still be had for comfortably under ten grand although double this for a high flying Pilot that’s earned its wings and, say, £3500 for a project or ropy rodder lacking originality. Woodies fetch a bit more and Utes more still; best look overseas for RHD models here. Pops and Prefects are in the region of £5000, tops.

Owning

Being a Ford, all what you need is out there – you’ve just got to track it down. There’s no new panel being made but certain trim parts are available from Australia while look to US for engine parts, standard or uprated. There’s good owner club support on both side of the Altantic. Rust is concern of course – everywhere including the roof due to its canvas roll-back top although ‘new’ panels are out there. Restorations outweigh the value the of the majority of cars left so buy the best you can. Woodies are a lot more complex than our Morris Minor; wood restos can cost at least five times more as there’s no ‘kits’ as such. That low revving V8 is pretty sturdy although they’ve always had a reputation for overheating due to its quirky design; a modern rebuild is around £5000 with gearbox overhaul half this if opting for new parts (from the US).

MG Midget & Derivatives

The real MG midget and a different driver to the T-types!
Why buy

The MG Midget pre-dates the more popular T-Type and while they look pretty similar they boast entirely different characters. What remains the same, however, is the superb owner back up that comes with the MG badge in terms of specialists and clubs.

What’s Available

The Midget came about after Morris took over Wolseley and MG founder Cecil Kimber discovered the unhidden potential of that corking overhead camshaft engine. Initially, the 847cc M-type Midget was produced but as a twoseater Sportsman’s Coupé (8/33) before the traditional 8/45 sports car came on stream in 1930, with a C-type (just 44 made) before subsequent D and J types took over in two and four-seater forms before the PA and PB versions, the latter now with a 939cc engine. Final Midget-badged MGs featured the much simpler 1292cc ohv Morris Ten engine. Don’t ignore the Magna, it’s a similar sports car sporting a smoother sixcylinder 1271cc Wolseley Hornet engine, or the K/N Series Magnettes, another forerunner to the T-Type. As you can see, it’s a bewildering mix of models so best speak to an expert first!

Driving

If you think that the Midget is just an older T-Type, then it’s time to adjust your hats, so says MG expert Barrie Carter. Yes, they look much the same and there’s that wonderful Dambusters’ sense of occasion, but Midgets feel much cruder than the later T-Type thanks to their more leisurely performance from the smaller engines and, on some models, a three-speed transmission. Also the brakes are cable not hydraulic on most, too. But if you still hanker for an earlier MG, he says the sixcylinder Magna and the K Series Magnettes perform the best.

What to pay

A veritable alphabet soup of Midgets, but all seem to be roughly priced around the £40-£50,000 mark for top models; Magnas similarly valued – the exception being the Q Type which can sell for an incredible £200K if it’s original and A1! Average regular cars can be bought for around £30K, and a J2 recently sold for £27,000 at auction, but you get what you pay for and restorations, particularly on the overhead cam engines, can be as expensive as a DB5 engine to rebuild!

Owning

It’s an MG which means sleep easy ownership thanks to a plethora of specialists dedicated to these pre-war MGs such as Barrie Carter, Barry Walker and Andy King. Like the T-Type, earlier Midgets relied a lot upon pre-war Morris Minor mechanicals. T-Type buying advice broadly applies (go to our classiccars4sale.net for this-ed). The overhead camshaft engines are known to leak oil plus the unusual dynamo/ camshaft drive can be problematic. Watch for twisted chassis, rust around suspension, gearbox and worn axle/spring bushes.

MG SA, VA & WA

The MG that you’ve probably never even considered before!
Why buy

If you were asked to name a pre-war MG, what you’d probably never think of is the SA, VA and WA, produced between 1936 and 1939, when MGs were perceived as prestigious transport full of character and class. The SA, VA and WA were created to challenge Bentley and Jaguar. Pricey to buy or restore and values expected to remain some of the highest of the brand and have soared of late.

What’s Available

Rarest is Pickford-bodied drophead; a Jag SS rival the MG was said to be better all round. The VA is effectively a scaled-down SA with a Morris 54bhp 1548cc four-cylinder engine. As with the SA, there’s a choice of saloon, tourer, or drophead coupé, all with four seats. WA launched at the Motor Show and in many ways appears similar to the SA but it’s actually a redesign. The engine is 2561cc, and the car is slightly wider. The brakes are increased in size from 12-inch to 14-inch drums and an additional bulkhead tackles the SA problem of heat transfer into the cabin. The usual three body styles are again offered. Scarcity of models and owners unwilling to sell may well mean a case of taking what’s on sale!

Driving

These cars are about luxury, especially six-cylinder models. Of the three models, the VA is the most sprightly, the smaller engine being easily offset by the reduced weight and size. Indeed, a VA Tourer is the closest to the MG traditional sports car and is quite fun to drive. Thanks to the fitment of a relatively small engine, the VA isn’t especially swift, but comparable to other more overtly sporting models, and when new could manage a not too shabby 76mph. Braking is okay if kept adjusted although all suffer from steering wander. The interiors, especially those of the saloons, have a real luxury feel.

What to pay

Hard to give accurate valuations, see www. svwregister.co.uk/carsclassified. A sad, rusty but complete chassis/engine/body will always fetch more than £10,000 for any model. For fully restored cars, values are higher for open models. WA cars are pricier than SA, and the SA is worth more than the VA. The most valuable of all the variants would be a fully and recently restored WA Tickford, which can fetch over £100,000! A similar open SA might reach £75,000, dropping to £40,000 for an average SA saloon.

Owning

It’s an MG but with few interchangeable parts between them. Andy King, Barry Walker (cars) MG Automobile Company (parts) and Barrie Carter can help. The bodyshell, is where the cost lies – ditto Bentley-like cabin. Originality is vital and obvious modifications likely to reduce values. If the car is running and looking good, there should be bills for work done and parts supplied. Any historical information is worth having.

Morgan Tri-Car

Old or brand new, that’s the choice with this free-thinker!
Why buy

Out of all this group of V&Vs, the Morgan Tri-Car is unique insofar that you can actually buy a brand new one. Débuting at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show was Morgan’s modern take on its classic three-wheeler with more than a little help from American enthusiasts. But whatever you choose you’ll have more smiles per mile than just about any other golden oldie and, being a Morgan, spares and specialist help are great.

What’s Available

The Morgan Tri-Car concept started back in 1909 and continued in production up until 1952, way after Morgan introduced four-wheelers. Of the originals, you’re looking essentially at the same design featuring either a (JAP and Blackburne) V-twin motorcycle engine or a conventional four cylinder (Ford 8 and 10hp units). The ‘new’ three-wheeler uses a novel V engine but of 2-litre size delivering 82bhp.

Driving

It will come as no surprise that these two ‘three spirits’ are blessed with entirely different characters; about the only thing in common is a tight cockpit where sitting in one is like wearing a jacket. With its light weight and an MX-5 gearbox the new Tri-Car hits 60 in under six seconds! The original is totally different; even narrower yet rides more comfortably although the cockpit is extremely primitive. Performance and handling are from different eras yet the original is pretty lively, the difference lies in the driving environment and the handling where it was not unknown for original drivers to wear a leather glove on their right hand to balance themselves against the road – thankfully the new car is considerably more secure and handles well!

What to pay

So few originals come on the market that even a basket case can cost four figures and let’s talk £30-50K tops depending upon their condition and provenance, with the early twins and the 1928 Super Sports Aero attracting the most money. Moderns typically sell for £25-£30,000 when purchased from a specialist – the best place to go by far.

Owning

If ‘investment’ is as important as ‘fun’, originals will always hold their values better. In contrast, the 2012 car is holding its own well but residuals depend on how well ‘fad’ holds good.

Bentley 3 Litre & 4.5 Litre

Steed’s steed is still one of the big boys’ toys
Why buy

Bentley’s 3 Litre is one of those landmarks in the history of the automobile. Made primarily for racing in mind, it won the 1924 Le Mans race, following up with another victory three years later in Supersports trim, Tim Birkin cemented the company’s Bentley Boys reputation that was enthusiastically revived at Le Sathe eight decades later. Silver Screen addicts can still see the car in continual re-runs of The Avengers. Fancy yourself as John Steed do you?

What’s Available

In short, designer labels! The Blue Label was the regular model made; Red Label was a higher performance derivative boasting a 5.3:1 compression ratio, produced up to 1929 while the Green Label featured an even higher compression ratio for 100mph performance, before the car was replaced by the 4.5 Litre which is the stuff of legends although having said that, specialists say the 3 Litre cars are the more popular picks despite their reduction in speed.

Driving

Like so many oldies, the Bentley is blessed with a centre throttle and right-hand gearchange but easy to familiarise. Performance is no hindrance on today’s roads as the Daily Telegraph commented back in 2013 (when twin testing against a Vauxhall 30/98) “With about 175bhp (the race cars had bigger SU carburettors and produced up to 240bhp) performance is brisk, but must have been unbelievable in 1930.” The Vauxhall, incidentally, was a shade faster! Where the Bentley scores is with its comfort; “The engine is very flexible and you can easily drive a couple of hundred miles without getting exhausted,” reports our expert David Burgess-Wise.

What to pay

Vintage Bentleys don’t come cheap and if you have to ask the price of one of the 55 Le Mans works cars you can’t afford it! Otherwise prices hover between 180K to well over 200,000 grand although prices vary depending upon the type of specialist bodywork fitted; many have been rebodied several times over the decade so history counts for a great deal. Formerly part of the Schlumpf Museum, a Vanden Plas-bodied 4.5 Tourer sold the thick end of £700,000 at a recent Bonhams Auction, for example!

Owning

Survival rates are high due to their robustness says Stanley Mann Racing (01923 852505); of the 664 4.5 Litre models 450 remain and 60 per cent of the 780 3 Litre cars – the scrapped cars provide all the spares needed although dials and switches can be scarce. A typical engine overhaul costs £20,000 but these cars are easy and delightful to work on says this famous specialist which, sadly, recently lost its founder Stanley Mann. Another specialist is Ed Watson (01455 213977) based in the Midlands.

RollS-Royce Silver Ghost

If you want the best car in the world, you’ve found it…
Why buy

If you asked the majority of even non car enthusiasts to name an old Rolls, it’s likely to be the Silver Ghost, not simply due to its style and presence but also for its famous craftsmanship and durability; it was the car that put Rolls-Royce on the map. The price to pay if you want one is considerable but what do you expect with The Best Car In The World?

What’s Available

The Ghost was originally known as the 40/50 and early cars up to 1910 used a 7036 engine (uprated to 7428cc thereafter, some engines boasting twin spark plugs per cylinder and coil or magneto ignition) and pre-1913 models featured a three-speed transmission. Full electrics (including starting) were installed in 1919, four-wheel brakes with servo an option in 1923. For all its prestige, the Ghost was being left behind in terms of advancement and why it was replaced by the Phantom. A wide variety of closed or open body styles were made by coachbuilders.

Driving

The Silver Ghost gained fame in 1911 when a 40/50hp model (chassis No 1701) drove from London to Edinburgh using only top gear so to prove the engine’s immense flexibility and a highly creditable 24.32mpg plus also completed a gruelling 15,000 reliability trial. The car fairly belies its age with light, direct steering, smooth suspension and a good gearbox, despite demanding a special technique.

What to pay

Prices vary greatly but you’re looking at six figures minimum to get you something reasonable and two-to-three times this for the better examples. According to Welsh-based The Real Car Co, the conditions of old Rollers can vary greatly and you’d be surprised on the state of many cars that have simply been tucked away in the garage and forgotten about.

Owning

Almost 7500 were made from 1907 to 1926, including 1701 in the US and survival rates are high. Spares supply is very good and while the Ghost isn’t as simple as a Morris Minor, they are within the realms of the home mechanic who will delight in the workmanship. As The Real Car Co says, they come from a time they were designed to be taken apart.

Rolls-Royce Phantoms

Operatic performances but always deserving an encore
Why buy

The Phantom replaced the much loved Silver Ghost and while the latter is a legend, the Phantom family is more usable for the family being more modern and refined.

What’s Available

The car was heavily based upon the old Ghost – apart from advanced servo-assisted braking – although the engine was new. A wide range of body styles were offered by specialist builders, such as Clark’s Regency saloon plus, as the car was also built in the US, numerous American styles. The Phantom II took over in 1929 and ran up to ’36. Unlike the first, being a development of the Ghost, the Phantom II sported an all new chassis with the 7.6-litre engine gaining a more efficient cylinder head. Just under 1300 Phantom IIs were built.

Driving

Being a Rolls, you expect sophistication in silence and neither Phantom is likely to disappoint in this respect even when compared to a car of the 1950s and 60s. Both models remain highly regarded as civilised tourers that can sustain the legal limit with ease giving an economy of around 14mpg plus are far more advanced in design than the Ghost.

What to pay

Prices can vary hugely depending upon condition and body style. For example, The Real Car Co advertises a Phantom II with a short ‘Harrison’ body at £65,000 but a restored four-door sports tourer is 100 grand more. Typically, prices hover around £50-£75,000 for a good car with a project – such as the rolling chassis sold at the 2015 Beaulieu Autojumble – costing over £20,000. Phantom Is are appreciably dearer, however.

Owning

Like its predecessor, the Silver Ghost, this Rolls-Royce is an easy and relatively low cost car to own given its status and screen prices although major rebuilds, such as the engine, are as dear as any Aston Martin. Spare parts are no problem however but, interestingly, the Real Car Co advises that those new to R-Rs and who want something with a vintage look and feel, yet are reasonably modern at the same time, are much better off looking at a post-war Wraith or Bentley R Type for a much smaller outlay – and we have to agree with this view.

VSCC

Established in 1934, the Vintage Sports-Car Club is one of the most highly regarded organisers of Pre-war and Historic motorsport in the world, with 7000 members worldwide, hosting over forty competitive and social events each year for Pre-war car enthusiasts at venues and locations in the United Kingdom. Despite the age of the participating machinery, the VSCC is undoubtedly one of the most active MSA Car Clubs today, being one of the few to host events annually from January to December across a wide array of motorsport disciplines, from Circuit Racing, Sprints and Hill Climbs to Club Trials, Navigation Rallies, Driving Tests and AutoSolos, as well as non-competitive Concours, Scenic Tours and hundreds of local Pubic House Meets. VSCC events feature extraordinary cars from across a golden era of motoring, including Edwardian (1905- 1918), Vintage (1919-1930), and selected Post Vintage Thoroughbreds (1931-1940), whilst Pre-1961 Grand Prix Racing Cars, 1950’s Sports Racing Cars, Formula 3 (500), Formula Junior and other historic machinery also compete at the Club’s Race Meetings and many Speed events alongside other celebrated Historic and Classic series. From Brooklands to Silverstone, Goodwood and Prescott, the VSCC offer close, competitive, quality Club motorsport at the UK’s most historic and celebrated venues, with representatives from the evocative marques of a special era of motoring, including Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Aston Martin, Frazer Nash, ERA and more. Whilst the events embrace the competitive spirit, an over-riding social ethos gels the Club together so you can always be sure to enjoy the company of like-minded people, whatever the event. With such a diverse range of motoring disciplines on offer there is plenty of scope to become involved at any level – Marshalling at Club events is a popular option and offers those who no longer compete or don’t have the appropriate car the opportunity to be involved with the Club’s activities and get close to the unique and historic machinery in action.


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